The Minnesota Golden Gophers are looking for their shine again after a 5-7 season in 2017. But now it’s time to rebuild, as their second-year head coach PJ Fleck prepares for the forthcoming breakout in the future. In our preview, we’ll take a look at the Pros/Cons of this year’s team, the over/under win total, potential impact newcomer, and a little history lesson.
- Coach on the Rise
Last offseason, the Gophers signed PJ Fleck, the coach with the most glistening of public profiles. The national media remains enamored with him, and for good reason – he remade Western Michigan from a door-stop to a nice sound system. Maybe not an essential home appliance but one that does make some noise. (Translated to football: Fleck’s first year at WMU saw a 1-11 record. By his fourth year, they were 13-1.) You’ve heard the phrase, “A rising tide raises all boats.” Well, Fleck is the tide in this situation. And Minnesota is only going to look better from it. #RowTheBoat
Pro with a Con
- The Running Back Situation
Listen, the Gophers have senior Rodney Smith, a workhorse who’s ready to prove yet again that he can be the focal point of an entire offense. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 208.7 carries, 935 rushing yards, and 7 rushing TDs. However, the Gophers also have absolutely no depth behind him since their other senior back Shannon Brooks will be out for the season. There are some freshman to carry the ball a few times but there’s nothing there to find solace. That’s clearly a pro with some con mixed in for good measure.
- Location Will Never Improve
The following places all have something in common: Florida, Texas, California. If you’re a college football fan, you’ll quickly identify that these are recruiting hotbeds, where a very large portion of the most highly ranked recruits come from. Sans a cinematic earthquake that drops the rest of the country into the ocean, Minnesota is and will always be really, really far away from all of those states. Sure, there are great recruits in the northern nethers of this country. However, they are fewer and further between. Minnesota – unfortunately – will likely never join the upper echelon in the recruiting ranks.
- Quarterbacks of No Repute
Not promising: No quarterback on the current Gopher roster has ever thrown an in-game pass for Minnesota. Once was a game that the Gophers threw only seven times and completed one pass. And this happened less than four years ago. But this is Fleck’s team now, and they definitely want to throw the ball. Right now, it ostensibly boils down to redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan and preferred walk-on Zack Annexstad. Whatever happens with the Gophers this year will run through one of these guys, if not both, so keep an eye on this.
2018 Season O/U Win Total
This team isn’t going to be great. However, it won’t be bad either (barring injury or some unexpected hiccup). It will likely pull out one surprise win during the season due to being a trap game for someone else. Fleck is improving the Gophers. Every account from inside the program is excited and positive about Minnesota football. But it’s not happening this year. The schedule has two very winnable non-conference games (New Mexico State and Miami (OH)), and one that’s not so easy (Fresno State, 10-4 last year). The first B1G game of the season is against Maryland and it will be the perfect litmus test to see what this team can be. However, the rest of the B1G slate is filled with road games that would be tough for any team in the country. Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are all welcoming the Gophers in 2018. The rest of the schedule is manageable but not guaranteed. Putting it all together, this feels like a team that should visit a bowl game but the margin for error is narrow. The Vegas o/u win total is 6. Seems like a push.
Potential Impact Newcomer
There is no doubt the quarterback will be the most important newcomer for the Gophers. It’s up to either redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan or preferred walk-on Zack Annexstad to win the spot. How that battle plays out will go a long way to determining the Gophers’ success for the year.
Minnesota, itself, claims seven national championships, the earliest being 1904. If measuring from the beginning of the poll era in 1936, that number shrinks to four, with the last one coming in 1960. As far as B1G titles go, the last time Minnesota got one of those was in 1967. So where do the Gophers go today? What do they need to do to break their current drought? Some days it feels like it will only happen if the stars align. But who knows? Maybe Fleck is the first star. Maybe two years down the road, when Wisconsin runs out of talent or luck or whatever it is they have, Minnesota will be ready to grab their chance for glory. Just gotta find those stars.